3D Character Production Tips
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3D Character Production Tips
24 April, 2017
Interview
3d artist Hector Moran talked about sculpting characters for games and for print.

Introduction

My name is Hector Moran, SculptorHec or just Hec when online or on social media.  I’m from Mexico, but I’ve moved around a lot.  I went to College in the US and studied computer animation back in the early 2000s and later got my first studio job in the Netherlands, at Streamline Studios.  I started as Environment Artist on the first Saints Row and later became Lead Artist and worked on several game projects there.  Later I moved to Vienna to work at another game studio called Sproing, also as Lead and later Head of Art.  While working full time I kept building my online presence and getting freelance work on the side, one of those side gigs was making miniatures for a little project called Kingdom Death around 2009.  KD is a lot more known in its area these days.

I went full-time freelance around 2012 and have been freelancing since.  Some of my game art gigs include a few skins for League of Legends.  Since I went freelance I wanted to narrow down my focus and skills a bit more on sculpting characters, so the bulk of my freelancing takes place in sculpting for 3D print. Besides Kingdom Death I’ve worked on projects like Relic Knights, Mega Man The Board Game, and Kimera’s Pulvis series among others.  I’ve also launched a couple of small original projects like Black Betty and Legends Of The Jungle, which were done in partnerships and funded via Indiegogo and Kickstarter.  Lately I’m also doing work for toy companies like Hasbro and Schleich, some pretty fun projects there too.

Characters

The pipeline for characters in different platforms does differ, but still shares a lot of the early stages.  These days games, animation, cinematics and 3d print all start out with high res sculpts, mostly in Zbrush.  With games the retopo gets done with low poly optimization, normal maps and animation in mind.  For characters like the LOL skins the count is under 13k and clothes get merged with body and polys are saved wherever possible while keeping good topology (triangles allowed and welcome).  Textures are painterly and have a lot of lighting and stylization built in. For cinematic style characters retopo is done with displacement maps and/or subdivision in mind (triangles less allowed/quads preferred) and texturing is less stylized and often shaders and lighting finalize the look, making the texture approach more about shaders, but this still varies lots depending on art style.

Games and cinematic approaches are converging more and more with PBR type projects, which doesn’t make one or the other always easier, just a bit different and the bar keeps moving up fast.  

3D Prints

3D print doesn’t need animation-friendly topology or UVs for the most part, but often I do use retopo and Zremesher for posing my characters.  Sometimes UVs make sense if you’re going to have texture patterns sculpted like snake scales and other repeating patterns. 3D print projects are very friendly for traditional sculptors to jump into digital because most of that knowledge transfers well into Zbrush, but the more of the technical side you know like topology and UVs or polygonal modeling, the better off you are with tackling anything from organic to hard surface stuff.

Abel

Abel, like his counterpart Dumah, was done for the miniatures market, but with 3D sculpting in mind.  Francesco Farabi was Art Director on it and worked very closely with Macs Gallo on the concept for them to be multi-kits.  I was brought in pretty early on and had some creative input to make the kits functional, but the design credit is still with them. I was just happy to take the gig because it was a great take on these two archetypes of Paladin and Nemesis.

It was a challenging kit where I used pretty much everything I’ve learned about making 3D print stuff.  The body is one of my anatomy study meshes with a face very loosely based on an actor.  The armor was done first with dynamesh, then clean retopo and later more sculpting.  Fabrics are also dynamesh sketches with retopo.  A few parts are dynamesh with Zremesher.  We approached the pose like you would on a traditional sculpt in that we tried to get the naked body to look just right and with enough contrapposto before finalizing the armor.

The cuts and keys are done with dynamesh booleans and some very organized subtooling.  I have some more tutorial content explaining similar stuff with a KD miniature on my site.

Details

Details are important, but they are very secondary to good form, proportion, and pose dynamics.  One of the projects I learned a lot from recently was when I made the 90s X-Men in Dysney Infinity style.  With that art style you’re pretty much naked, in the sense that there are no details or very few. These type of figures are mostly clean elegant forms and lines that either look good, or look wrong. Details some times help distract from bad form, bad proportion or bad posing.  Details need to be balanced between cosmetic and functional, but for me at least, they’re mostly the icing on the cake.  You still gotta make good cake, lol.

Stylized Art

I’ve always been more attracted to stylized work than realism, but I value and study anatomy and realism and try to keep learning more of it. Good art styles are still heavily informed by realism and anatomy.  The more you study that, the better knowledge and tendencies you can bring to stylized work.  Abel is stylized in the sense that he has very heroic proportions, his head is very small, muscles very defined, and his hands and feet are exaggerated too. He is a mixture of something like Michaelangelo’s David and Jim Lee style Marvel heroes. While these proportions are stylized, the muscles and anatomy on him are still heavily influenced by looking at bodybuilders like Greg Plitt and anatomy refs.

The larger 75mm scale allows for details to survive and parts to have a more realistic scale and thickness than you would have on 35mm scales.  On detailed parts like the vanquished demon he stands on and the rocks I use brushes that help create details faster, some of those brushes are the Orb Cracks brush, Trim brushes, Crumple brush, and the Flakes brush at very low intensity.

Paint Work 

With miniatures, you make your sculptures and the customers get to finish them.  They can chose to just assemble them and use them for board games unpainted, or they can paint them lavishly and put them on their shelf for display, or even enter them into competitions.  In that sense as as sculptor you collaborate with the people that buy minis you sculpt, which is pretty cool.

I’ve had the good fortune of collaborating with some of the best professional miniature painters out there.  The miniature painters community is a small and very dedicated niche that overlaps with the board gaming crowd, but in cases are more focused on painting and collecting than playing board games.  As a sculptor I try to provide something that will look good unpainted or just primed in gray, but where sensible or necessary I try to provide surface breaks and sculpted texture that will facilitate painting.  Some times cuts and keys are done with ease of paint in mind too.

For the Kimera multi-kits I got to team up with some of the biggest names in that field including Ben Komets and Fabrizio Russo for the two versions of Dumah.  Kirill Kanaev and Francesco Farabi painted the two versions of Abel.  The kind of artistry that these guys bring into a paintjob makes it very exiting to complete a sculpt, because you just know that some of the painted versions that will turn up a few months later will very likely be mind blowing.  I’m very happy to work doing something I love and to keep learning and improving along the way.

Hector Moran, Freelance Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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